Byron Scott, professor emeritus, Missouri School of Journalism: For more than two decades Somalia has been a troubled nation, civil war, famine and most recently militant Islamists who turned to international terror. Last Sunday, as crowds watched the World Cup in neighboring Kampala, Uganda, two bombs exploded. The death tolls have risen to at least 76 including one American. A Somali group calling itself al-Shabab, or the youth, quickly claimed credit for the attacks. A Shabab commander in Mogadishu declared whatever makes them cry makes us happy. Worldwide reactions include fears that the horn of Africa is the next front of global jihad. As the American secretary of state for African affairs put it this was a localized cancer but the cancer has metastasized into a regional crisis. Richard, I am going to begin by asking you to tell us, since you were on the scene, what happened at the time of the explosions.
Richard Wanambwa, investigative reporter, Monitor Publications, Kampala, Uganda: It was a Sunday in July. We convened at the rugby grounds. About 3,000 people were watching the finale of the World Cup. The security wasn’t that tight, but there wasn’t expectations that such things would happen. But I remember the commentator of the World Cup saying three minutes to go until the end of the official time, and that is when the first explosion occurred at the entrance. So after this first explosion, we had the second one in the middle, I was in the front row. About four people were killed by the first bomb, which in first place caused commotion. When the second bomb exploded, it took about 50 people. In the process I dived, I crawled on my knees, I bent down until I saw some movements when it went off. It was total chaos. I moved out after 10 minutes on the ground and … and blood soaked my clothes.
Scott: Malkhadir, what do you see is the significance of this incident in the whole Somalia mess?
Malkhadir Muhumed, correspondent, East Africa Bureau, Associated Press: It was the first international terrorism done by al-Shabab since it was established in 2007. So it was a shock to Ugandans, and they didn’t expect that al-Shabab could be capable to carry out oppression outside Somalia. So this was the first oppression outside Somalia so the significance of it was that.
Scott: Can you talk about the African Union troops trying to keep peace in Mogadishu?
Muhumed: Uganda has more than 2,000 peace keepers in Mogadishu and those troops are under the order of African Union. African Union has a force of about 6,000 peacekeepers in Mogadishu so those guys are normally engaged, they are mandated to protect government institutions. The only resource the government has is the African Union peace keepers. They normally clash with al-Shabab in Mogadishu, but Al-Shabab challenges residential areas and many civilians die as a result.
Scott: Sudarsan, in your Washington Post story Monday you spoke about the al-Qaida linkage of this group. Could you tell us a little more about that and about what you saw when you arrived on the scene?
Sudarsan Raghavan, Africa Bureau Chief, The Washington Post, Nairobi, Kenya: When I came into Kampala, I basically landed on Monday, went to the two main venues that were attacked: the Ethiopian restaurant and the rugby club. Crowds of Ugandans were looking, peering inside the restaurant. The restaurant looked like a tornado had run right through it. Tables were toppled. There was shattered glass everywhere, blood stains and people were just curious. Kampala itself is a very safe city, one of the safest on the continent so there was definitely a sense of shock and surprise at such a clear attack in their city.
Scott: I am going to ask also what each of you sees as the wider significance for the horn of Africa? Is this an opening gun, as it were, on a wider war?
Wanambwa: First of all no country in the region would allow this al-Shabab to spread to their cities, and, secondly, as Uganda we are not going to entertain this. We know we contribute to the peace keeping force in Somalia but that does not mean that you have to extend war to Kampala. Our mission in Somalia is to provide peace to the citizens and to the foreign militaries, so for us we are there for peace, we go to protect peoples’ lives. The latest I have heard is that our president has already sanctioned to send 10,000 more troops to Somalia so that means that if all original countries in Africa Union contribute I think al-Shabab won’t be a threat.
Scott: Sudarsan, let me go back to you then on to Malkhadir. Can you tell us a little bit more about what we were talking about the potential for the follow-up or the widening of this conflict?
Raghavan: It is too early to tell whether al-Shabab will end up attacking more targets outside of Somalia. Al-Shabab’s emir basically for the second time put out the message just today they will apply more attacks on Uganda if the Uganda peacekeepers do not leave Somalia and then the same thing goes for Burundi as well. Because both countries have the African and peacekeeping force, the threat is there and I think certainly the U.S. government and all of Somalia’s neighbors are taking that kind of threat seriously now, after what happened on Sunday. However, I think there is a larger phenomenon what we really see here is al-Qaida affiliates really growing in ambition and stature. Seven months ago we saw the al-Qaida Yemen branch nearly bomb an American airliner out from Detroit on Christmas day and now we’re seeing al-Shabab making its first major attack outside Somalia. The Pakistani Taliban was trying to orchestrate a bombing in Times Square just a couple months ago. So what we really see here is rather a central body playing a prominent role. What you’re seeing here is the satellites, the affiliates who are increasingly gaining prominence and growing in their ambition, basically trying to take their jihad outside their borders. This is perhaps the beginning of something larger.
Scott: I am going to also ask our participants to say a little bit about Somalia itself. The Republic of Somalia – a breakaway component of that nation just had its second presidential election. They’re being looked upon here in the West as the good guys with U.N. sanctions. Al-Shabab in part of the country including, I gather Mogadishu about whom Americans have very bitter memories. What Malkhadir Muhumed is going to happen with Somalia? I think that is kind of a rhetorical question at this point but give us your thoughts?
Muhumed: Unfortunately, it was at a critical situation since 1991 when Somalia collapsed. Since then this chaos appears to reign supreme there, so no one knows what will happen to Somalia or how things will turn out in the near future.
Scott: Let me break in there because we are running short of time. We are fascinated by the Somali pirates and their possible connection here and that is again another facet of this whole picture but Sudarsan let us continue with you perhaps with some closing comments about where you see this story going. What kinds of articles do you expect to be writing in the next few weeks on this?
Raghavan: The president of Uganda has said that he wants 2,000 more troops to Somalia. That is one thing to look at is whether Ugandans and the African peacekeeping force will try to move further. Right now the war is a tit for tat killing basically. Border opposition and artillery into Shabab areas and as mentioned earlier it is creating quite a high civilian toll as well. Most people would say that there is no military solution. I mean the Shabab very much are guerilla fighters. They are highly trained and fighting them militarily so far has not really worked. It hasn’t really weakened them so much. So most people are looking for a more negotiating solution, that is what the government is trying to do as well, the transitional government that is. One way perhaps is to convince certain clans to disengage from the Shabab or find ways to incorporate them in the government. All these things are out there.
Scott: We’re running out of time and none of this sounds any simpler than when we started but it is certainly a story that we’re going to have to keep our minds on and keep our focus on. The horn of Africa, from the air, from a satellite looks like such an inviting place but it is a place where 9 million people at least are in peril – not to mention the many million in the associating countries. An irony that a festering international trouble spot that is Somalia is its untapped oil reserves that many experts believe could transform an unstable nation into a world energy resource and a better life for Somalia’s 9 million residents. But like so much else in troubled Somalia that seems a far off dream.
Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Liz Lance, Youn-Joo Park, Angela Potrykus, Tim Wall and Rebecca Wolfson. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.
Byron Scott, Professor Emeritus at the MU School of Journalism, was the moderator of this weekly radio program “Global Journalist.” It airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on KBIA/91.3 FM or at www.globaljournalist.org.